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Is Europe ready for electric vehicles?

Some say electric cars and motorcycles are the future of personal transport, but is Europe’s infrastructure ready to provide the energy these vehicles need?

Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular with more people looking for alternatives to gas and diesel. A concern to many people is however whether it is possible to travel longer distances. Consultancy company Sweco set out on a journey across Europe in an electric vehicle – and found a lot of challenges along the way (Sweco consults on engineering, environmental technology and architecture).

Many European countries are currently discussing how to plan and develop sustainable mobility for the future. Major infrastructural developments are required to create the right conditions to meet the demand of a new travel behaviour. The Sweco Urban Insight report ‘E-magine a Journey through Europe – Energy Infrastructure for Sustainable Mobility’ examines whether it is feasible for a family to travel on holiday across Europe in an electric vehicle and what preparations are needed.

The fictional family trip went from London to Warsaw, through Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The family runs into a number of obstacles, but also discovers that some cities have implemented smart solutions to make life easier for electric vehicle drivers. For example, it turns out to be much easier in Sweden than in Germany to find charging stations with the right plugs. The quality and design of plugs and charging stations also varies across the continent, causing some problems on the way.

Traveling with an electric car through Europe requires an inordinate amount of research and planning – for example, different mobile phone applications to locate charging stations and membership cards for payment are needed for different countries. It is clear that alternative fuels will become further integrated into society in coming years. Currently, it appears that electric vehicles will dominate passenger transport, although hydrogen vehicles are also developing quickly and may become a significant market player. The report identifies a number of challenges and recommendations to facilitate the development of sustainable European mobility.

Making electric vehicles and infrastructure more visible to the public through marketing could increase the usage. For example, easy-to-use electric car rental services and electric public transport could contribute to and enhance user experience. More political initiatives are needed to promote the development of electric transport. For example, the Scandinavian method of offering electric vehicles free access to bus and taxi lanes could be implemented in other parts of Europe.

The conclusion is that the infrastructure for electric vehicles varies widely between countries and that a lot of planning is required before embarking on a journey across Europe. A variety of cards and mobile applications are needed to charge the car, as each country has its own solutions. Availability of charging stations is also a concern, as well as the fact that there are many different chargers with varying charging times.

“There is no harmonization between countries, both in terms of infrastructure and payment methods, which is a major shortcoming. For electric cars to break through, politicians and industry need to work together to get the right conditions in place,” says Tim van den Maagdenberg, Head of department Decentralised Power Engineering in Cologne, Sweco Germany.

Key insights from the Sweco report

  • There is a clear need for harmonization of charging plugs, chargers and payment methods for charging electric vehicles within the EU.
  • There must be enough charging points of the right quality – the quality of the charging point determines the charging speed.
  • Industry and politics must work together to ensure further development in the market of electric vehicles.
  • The infrastructure for charging points plays a crucial role in further development. The fear of insufficient fuel coverage must be minimized and at the same time it must be ensured that charging points are available when needed.
  • Charging points in cities are essential, for an optimal design, the specific characteristics of districts must be taken into account.
  • The management of charging points is crucial for being able to process peaks in the power requirement – cities must be prepared for peaks in the demand for electricity.
  • In the coming decades, electricity and hydrogen will become the most important energy carriers for mobility.

Written by Wim Taal
Source: Sweco

Electric motorcycles
FEMA talked to Marchel Bulthuis, a Dutch importer of a number of different brands of electric motorcycles.

Marchel: “I get a lot of questions about the range of electric bikes, but I think range is overrated. The range of an Energica Ego for example, is 200 kilometres in eco modus, but I can do 1,000 kilometres if I want to. You need to think differently; when you’re riding, you are going to get a coffee or lunch, or anything. At that moment you will charge the battery, using the public infrastructure or fast charging along the highway. If you do it like that, you don’t have to worry about the range.”

Marchel: “Governments and businesses need to invest more in the infrastructure for electric vehicles. If you can charge anywhere, also at work, you can travel anywhere you want. But we need more public charging locations, at shops, at restaurants, et cetera. In the past we built petrol stations, now we need to build charging stations for electric vehicles.”

An example of a website that shows charging stations: